I had a conference call with Scott Lathrop (director of TeraGrid's external communicaitons, education, outreach, and training) and a subgroup of the Cyberinfrastructure User Advisory Committee (CUAC) the other day. This subgroup is focusing on issues related to training, communications, education, and outreach.
We spent some time discussing strategies for expanding and improving on-line training for TeraGrid as well as the on-line documentation in general. Over the past year our external communications team has made tremendous improvements to the website, and they continue to do so. Is there a way to improve it even more, and make the information more fresh?
One approach we talked about was the use of technology such as is used for Wikipedia, allowing our team of experts and editors to be effectively expanded to include any member of the community. But can such an approach work for TeraGrid? Will the information be accurate?
Stanford's Roy Pea
, one of our CUAC advisors, did an interesting experiment
using the Wikipedia technology to engage a community of students to build a site for one of his graduate courses. He notes that common concerns to this approach include quality and accuracy, but these are challenges to address rather than fatal flaws to the approach. Nature
did a study comparing Wikipedia with the Encyclopedia Britanica
in late 2005. Forty-two science articles - the Wikipedia version and the Britanica version - were sent to reviewers, who were not told which was which. Reviewers found on average 4 errors per article in the Wikipedia version and 3 errors per article in Britanica. In this Nature article, author Jim Giles writes:Only eight serious errors, such as misinterpretations of important concepts, were detected in the pairs of articles reviewed, four from each encyclopaedia. But reviewers also found many factual errors, omissions or misleading statements: 162 and 123 in Wikipedia and Britannica, respectively.
So Wikipedia isn't quite up to the Britannica standard, but it's pretty close. My sense is that the Wikipedia approach to on-line training and documentation for cyberinfrastructure would give us much more up-to-date information, and would make the information more informative in many cases as domain experts contribute. At the same time, concerns from professional editors about quality have also been raised, and Wikipedia's founder, Jimmy Wales, has expressed the need to focus on quality at this year's Wikimania conference
. I think for cyberinfrastructure, such as TeraGrid, the best approach will be to combine the strengths of our editors and writers with the input of the community. A "TeraWikiPedia" is likely to deepen and improve our documentation and online training much more rapidly - and allow it to adapt in near-real time. It will in fact mean we will rely even more heavily on our editors and writers to curate and polish the content.
I'd like to see us try the Wikipedia approach with a particular set of materials, such as our education, outreach, and training materials, to see how it goes. Based on our experience there we'll have a better idea of how best to harness the creativity of the community for all of our online content.Non-sequitur of the week. Global Positioning System (GPS)
- One of my favorite toys is my Garmin Legend Cx
hand held GPS unit. Besides using it for navigation (thus never
having to ask directions!), I "collect" two kinds of waypoints. One kind is what I'd call a souvenir waypoint - things that you don't need a GPS to find. For example, Tokyo Station. The second kind is much more useful - places I'd like to go back to, or point others to, that are not necessarily easy to find. My favorite coffee shop (41.89529N, 12.48019E), an excellent local artisan's pottery shop (48.68931N, 122.95795W), or a friend's office (35.27568S, 149.12085E). A fun thing to do with your waypoints is to mash them up into a Google map, which is an easy way to share them with friends. I use Mapbuilder
to do this. In fact a couple of friends and I are using a shared map there to assemble our favorite waypoints
(so we can harvest the benefits of one anothers' exploration!). Geeky? You betcha.